For members


Your key questions answered about the Schengen area’s 90-day rule

The EU/Schengen area's '90-day' rule is a complicated one that causes much confusion for travellers - here we answer some of the most common questions from readers of The Local.

Your key questions answered about the Schengen area's 90-day rule

The Schengen ’90-day’ rule applies to non-EU/EEA citizens, including Britons, and limits access to the EU’s Schengen zone to 90 days in every 180 day period. Anyone who wants to stay longer than this will need to apply for a national visa of the country they are visiting. 

Not all citizens of non-EU/EEA countries benefit from the visa-free 90 days. Some nationalities must apply for a visa for any visit to an EU country, even just a one-week holiday. But non-EU citizens including the British, Americans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders do benefit from it.

The limit of 90 days in every 180 gives you a total of six months per year within the Schengen zone, so for tourists or people who want to visit family or friends its perfectly adequate – the people who tend to have problems with it are second-home owners and those who work on short-term contracts in the EU.

The Schengen area currently includes all EU states apart from Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus although the latter three states intend to join. It also includes the non-EU states Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (EFTA). Croatia was allowed to join the Schengen area late last year.

You can find a full explanation of how the rule works HERE, and answers to some of the most commonly-asked questions from readers of The Local below.

Does the limit apply to the whole Schengen area?

This is one aspect that frequently catches people out – the 90-day limit refers to the entire Schengen area. So if, for example, you spend 88 days at your second home in Spain you won’t have enough time allocation left for a long-weekend in Paris.

What counts as a ‘day’?

Any time spent in EU/Schengen territory counts as a single day, technically even a couple of minutes. So if you take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then go straight to the airport for a flight to New York, that counts as one day from your allowance.

Do I have to spend 90 days outside the Schengen?

Exactly how to calculate the 90 days causes problems for many. The 90 days can be taken as either one long visit or multiple short ones, and are calculated as a rolling clock.

You can find a full explanation of how to calculate the allowance HERE – but the short version is that at any time of the year, you need to be able to count back 180 days, and within those 180 days not have spent more than 90 of them in the EU/Schengen area.

You may have heard that once you reach 90 you must leave the EU and cannot return for 90 days.

READ ALSO: How to calculate your Schengen 90-day allowance

This is in fact only the case if you actually reach your 90-day limit. So those that stay for a full 90 days consecutively would then have to leave the Schengen area for 90 days, before they can return.

Most people who make multiple short visits find it best not to go above 85 or so days, meaning that they have a couple of days ‘in hand’ for emergencies. They do not then have to spend 90 days outside the EU to “reset the clock”, but can return once they have enough days within the previous 180 period.

What if there’s a strike and I can’t leave in time?

Transport strikes are not unusual in Europe, especially France, but if your plane, train or ferry is cancelled it could lead to you overstaying your 90 days.

The best advice is to keep a couple of days in hand, just in case.

If you do end up accidentally overstaying, then the ‘force majeur‘ rule applies – essentially, you need to be able to prove that it was impossible for you to leave the country on time, which might be difficult as even during a strike period there is usually some transport running, even if it is complicated and expensive to change your travel plans.

What if I live in the EU?

If you are a non-EU/EEA national and your are resident in an EU country – with a visa or residency permit – then clearly the 90-day rule does not apply to your country of residence.

It does, however, apply once you travel to another EU country. So if you live in France and like to spend long holidays in Spain and Italy, then you need to keep track of your 90 days.

In practice, there is usually little in the way of border controls when you are travelling within the EU so it’s unlikely that your passport will be stamped or even checked. However, technically the rules does apply.

What are the penalties for over staying?

If you have over-stayed your 90 days you can be fined, deported and banned from re-entry to the EU.

In practice, enforcement varies between countries and most countries keep the toughest penalties for people who have overstayed for many months or even years, or who are working illegally.

READ ALSO What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit?

The most likely scenario for people who have over-stayed for a short time is a fine – French authorities have been issuing €198 fines to over-stayers – and a stamp in the passport flagging the person as an over-stayer. This stamp will likely lead to added complications on future trips, and can make getting a visa more difficult.

What if I get a visa?

People who want to spend more than 90 days in every 180 in the EU/Schengen area will need to get a visa.

However, there is no such thing as an ‘EU visa’ that allows you unlimited access to the bloc. You will need to get a national visa for the country where you spend the most time.

You can then continue to use your 90-day limit to visit other countries within the EU.

All countries have different rules on visas, but for most people who want to spend long periods in the EU without actually moving there, a short-stay visitor visa is the best option.

What if I’m married to an EU citizen? 

Citizens of EU and Schengen zone countries benefit from EU freedom of movement, so are not constrained by the 90-day rule. This, however, does not extend to non-EU spouses.

If you want to spend more than 90 days in the Schengen zone, you will still need a visa (or look to obtain EU citizenship through marriage).

What if I get a new passport?

People travelling under the 90-day rule usually have their passports stamped on entry and exit, in order to keep track of their 90 days.

However passports are also scanned on entry and exit, so a record exists beyond the passport page with its stamp. Therefore getting a new passport does not restart your 90 days, no matter that all the pages are lovely and blank.

What will EES and ETIAS change?

This brings us onto EES, the EU’s new system of border control which involves extra checks at the border – including fingerprints and facial scans – and automatic scanning of passports.

The implementation date has been postponed several times – it’s now due in 2024 – but this will make it harder for over-stayers to slip through the net.

Find a full explanation of the new system HERE.

Could this change for second-home owners?

Definitely the most-asked question at The Local is whether some kind of special deal may be forthcoming for second-home owners.

All we can say for certain is that there are no plans currently in place, and as the 90-day rule is an EU one it would have to be discussed at an EU level.

Individual countries could choose to introduce a special visa for second-home owners, but this still wouldn’t be the same as the paperwork free stays that EU citizens enjoy.

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For members


Six places in Catalonia that don’t get many tourists

Looking to escape the crowds in Spain's Catalonia region this summer? Our Catalonia-based writer, Esme Fox recommends some of her favourite places in the region where you can keep away from other visitors. 

Six places in Catalonia that don’t get many tourists

Catalonia is regularly the most-visited region in Spain. According to recent data, the northeastern region welcomed a total of 4.29 million during the first three months of 2023. 

Of course, most tourists head to the capital of Barcelona, one of the most popular cities in the whole of Spain, well as nearby beach towns such as Sitges, day trips like Montserrat, the historic city of Girona, and the spectacular Costa Brava coastline. 

But, just because it receives the most, doesn’t mean that the whole region is busy and touristy, far from it. Catalonia covers 32,091 square kilometres and there are plenty of inland towns and villages, as well as natural parks, where you can get away from it all. 


It’s only a one-hour drive from Barcelona to the southernmost part Montseny, which is both a natural park and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Because of this, you would think it would be very busy, but because it’s difficult to reach by public transport, it doesn’t get so many.

The park’s other advantage is that it covers a total of 50,000 hectares and contains over 30 different marked trails for hiking, meaning there’s always space to get away from other visitors. Even though it welcomes two million people a year, they’re very spread out. Much of the park is forested, keeping it shady and cool in summer and there plenty of small waterfalls and streams to explore too. One of the best times to visit is autumn when all the trees turn to shades or crimson, amber and mustard. 


The Penedès lie in the hills above coastal towns such as Vilanova i la Geltrú. Catalonia’s premier wine region, it’s primarily responsible for making cava, Spain’s answer to French champagne. While this does make it popular, tourists tend to head only to a couple of key towns, leaving the rest of the 16,637 hectares ripe for exploration. Visitors tend to mainly head for the famous cava producers in the village of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia or the capital of the region Vilafranca del Penedès.

But, if you steer clear of these two and visit smaller lesser-known villages such as Castellví de la Marca, Subirats or Avinyonet del Penedès, you’ll find it’s very quiet. One of the best things to do in fact is to drive around the countryside or hike along the many trails through the vineyards, stopping at the small independent wineries for tastings along the way. 

Explore the lesser-known areas of the Penedès. Photo: Pablo Valerio / Pixabay

This quirky little town lies to the southwest of the Penedès. Although it can be reached on the train from Barcelona in two hours, it rarely receives a lot of visitors. One of the most interesting aspects of the town is that it’s home to an exact replica of Seville’s famous La Giralda belltower, except only half the size. Inside, however, it was designed as a Mudéjar palace with Moorish-style tiles and fountains. The town is also home to several other gorgeous Modernista buildings and even holds a yearly Modernista festival, where the townspeople dress in period costumes. 

A short hike from L’Arboç brings you to the Pantà del Foix reservoir, a bottle-green lake surrounded by steep forest-clad hills. On the shores of the lake sits the tiny village of Castellet i la Gornal and its imposing 10th-century castle of Castellet. While the village can get busy on weekends or bank holidays with locals from nearby towns, there are plenty of hiking trails around the lake, where you’ll very quickly find yourself alone once more. 


Ripoll sits high up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where the Ter and Freser rivers meet. It may not get a huge number of visitors because of its location, but it played a very important role in the history of Catalonia.

The town was built around the 9th-century Benedictine monastery of Santa María de Ripoll, which was commissioned by Guifré el Pilós or Count Wildfred The Hairy, said to be the founder of Catalonia. Legend also has it that also Guifré el Pilós was responsible for the creation of the Senyera, the Catalan flag. The story goes that when he was injured in battle, he dipped his hand in his own blood and smeared it across his golden shield, creating the four red stripes of the flag. Oddly enough, it is thought that he wasn’t very hairy at all.  

Vall de Gerber

Part of the Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici, the only National Park in Catalunya, right in the corner of Catalonia with France to the north and Aragón to the west, you’ll find the Vall de Gerber. The valley was originally created by glaciers many thousands of years ago and is situated on the northeastern edge of Aigüestortes. Here you’ll find several glassy mountain lakes, verdant meadows, and unusual hikes up and over rock boulders. 

Explore the Vall de Gerber without the tourists. Photo: rodolfo7 / Pixabay

Delta del Ebro

The Delta del Ebro sits south of Tarragona, right before it meets the border with the Valencia region. Although the coastline right above it – the Costa Daurada – can get very busy in summer, such as in towns like L’Ametlla de Mar, the Delta itself is rarely busy. The delta covers an area of 320 km2 and is where the River Ebro finally reaches the sea. It’s one of Europe’s most important wetland areas, home to big colonies of pink flamingoes, as well as many other species.

There are several small villages to stay here including Riumar, Deltebre, L’Eucaliptus and El Poble Nou del Delta, which have a couple of hotels each. There are also several hiking and biking trails around the natural park and vast stretches of beaches all the way around, where you’re guaranteed to find a place to lay your towel and go for a dip.